Buhari raises hopes, leaves memories of strikes, decayed infrastructure

Buhari raises hopes, leaves memories of strikes, decayed infrastructure

DEBORAH TOLU-KOLAWOLE writes that an assessment of tertiary education under the outgoing regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), will reveal memories of failed promises and strikes that characterised his eight-year regime

In 2014, before he became President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) said, “If you could recall, at the time the government said it was voting N7bn for a national conference, ASUU was on strike. And teachers of other tertiary institutions, like the polytechnics, were equally on strike.

“This strike was on for almost an academic year and a serious government, if they had N7bn to throw about, would go and negotiate with ASUU and the teachers' organisations and the teachers' unions of the tertiary institutions of the polytechnics downwards so that our children will remain in schools.

“The National Assembly is there, if you want to amend the constitution so why go and take N7bn that we could not afford when our children are on the streets? I think this government has the capacity for wrong priorities that are hurting us as a nation.”

ASUU, ASUP, and other tertiary-institutions-based unions and Nigerians at large were amazed at the show of compassion and empathy Buhari displayed towards the cause of higher education in the country.

Buhari had castigated his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan for “failing to negotiate with striking lecturers in higher institutions” and going ahead to spend money on a national conference on education.

Buhari, who was armed with a seasoned columnist, Adamu Adamu (whom he would later appoint as the minister of education), seemed to have a lasting solution to the incessant strikes in higher institutions. Little did Nigerians know that the highest number of strikes would be witnessed under the ‘empathetic' Buhari.

On May 29, 2015, Buhari took over the reins of power following his grand victory over the former president and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2015 election, Goodluck Jonathan.

During his campaigns, Buhari made tons of promises to the education sector and on several occasions flayed his predecessors for the little attention paid to the sector.

Like other ministries, the Ministry of Education which oversees the tertiary education sector did not get a supervising minister until six months into Buhari's regime.

Finally, Buhari appointed Adamu Adamu, a widely-respected columnist, who had never failed to show his support for unionism, especially ASUU. Following Adamu's appointment, industry experts expressed joy over what was tagged an “Excellent choice.”

But Adamu would not implement all he had preached in his column over the years due to challenges over his health. The minister, though assisted by junior ministers, spent most of his time in hospitals abroad.

Though tertiary institutions in the country enjoyed relative industrial peace for the first few months of the Buhari era, things would later turn sour.

Some of the issues which led to industrial actions bordered around improved pay for workers.

In 2016, ASUU went on strike for 7 days, and in 2017 it witnessed 35 days of strike. In 2018, ASUU downed tools for 19 days and this continued till February 8, 2019. 2020 witnessed a whopping 9 months of ASUU strike, following its disagreement with the Federal Government over the funding of the universities and implementation of the payment system.

Many Nigerians thought that the public universities were going to experience strike-free academic sessions having come off the pandemic trauma in 2020 only for the ugly academic monster to step on stage again on February 14, 2022, lasting for eight months.

Comparatively, President Olusegun Obasanjo's eight-year administration did not attract as many strikes as noticed in Buhari's seven years and some months. ASUU went on strike for 541 days under Obasanjo's administration.

From 2007 to 2010 under President Umar Yar'dua, ASUU had 127 days of strike action. The immediate former President Goodluck Jonathan's government from 2010 to 2015 experienced 359 days of ASUU strikes.

University lecturers were not the only ones who went on strike during this period, lecturers in polytechnics, colleges of education and other categories of workers in tertiary institutions also had their show.

For instance, in January 2017, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, under the then National President, Usman Dutse, embarked on a seven-day warning strike from January 30, 2017, to February 5, 2017.

Again on November 11, 2017, they announced another strike which lasted for 15 days. The strike was called off on November 29, 2017.

In 2018, lecturers in Colleges of Education took the lead when COEASU embarked on strike on October 9, 2018.

Similarly, ASUP went on strike again on December 12, 2018. The strike was called off on February 13, 2019.

While other academic unions did not go on strike in 2021, ASUP embarked on a 65-day strike. The strike, which commenced on April 6, 2021, was called off on June 9, 2021.

In 2022, ASUP embarked on strike for two weeks while that of COEASU lasted for four weeks.

The National Coordinator of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Onwubiko, in an interview with The PUNCH, said the inability of the government to solve the crises in public institutions is a war on youths.

“The government's inability to resolve the industrial crisis in the public universities whereby over 70% of youths attend because they are from poor backgrounds is a direct declaration of war on the youths,” he said.

Despite the challenges encountered in higher institutions due to industrial actions by aggrieved unions, the Buhari regime scored itself high on infrastructure and the establishment of new institutions.

For instance, no fewer than 112 universities (federal, state and private) were licensed under Buhari. There were also instances when polytechnics and colleges of education were converted and licensed to award degrees like universities.

As regards funding, the Buhari regime also scored itself high. For instance, in the scorecard released by the Presidency, Buhari was hailed for “commuting more than N2tr of capital intervention to Nigeria's tertiary institutions, through various means, including TETFund – with the universities taking the lion's share of the total amount,” but experts in the sector flayed this by noting that the amount from TETFund was a collective donation from Nigerians through the two per cent education tax collected on behalf of TETFund by the Federal Inland Revenue Services.

Buhari and his critics, however, seemed to agree on the dearth of infrastructure in higher institutions.

Recently, the President said the Federal Government was aware of the infrastructural deficit facing the universities in the country.

Like other ministries, departments and agencies, tertiary institutions in the country also suffered from a shortage of staff due to the embargo placed on by the Buhari regime.

A former deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Uyo, Prof. Ini Uko, in an interview with our correspondent, said that the ban on employment had frustrated the recruitment of new hands.

Uko, a structural engineer, stated that he was the only professor in his department, and he would soon retire.

He stated, “I am the only professor in my department and I will be retiring soon. Before, we normally retained our first-class graduates; but for the past six years, we have had a number of first-class graduates, but we have not been able to retain them. One of our best students just got a scholarship to study abroad. I pleaded for many years for the lady to be engaged by the university because she is an academic material.

“When these young intellectuals come in, we mentor them and supervise their postgraduate thesis and they take over from us. The IPPIS forced on academics is not helping matters. Departments are short-staffed. Before, we had academics on sabbatical. You teach in the school and you get paid there, but some time ago, it was stopped. Some universities depend on these professors on sabbatical.”

Uko recalled that when he went on sabbatical, he served as the head of the department in the school because the department did not have a PhD holder as a lecturer. He noted that a department could not run postgraduate courses successfully without professors.

He added, “For instance, a private university recently graduated PhD students and it achieved this through the adjunct professors. So, if the government is saying they are not ready to employ, there is a problem.

“Other times, when they want to employ, it is done from Abuja and they don't employ the best brains and what the universities need. We focus on our first-class graduates and then those with second-class upper division.

“In my department, we lost accreditation three years ago. When they came back in November, we were given interim accreditation. We are not happy.”

Though the regime is officially coming to an end, no one knows when the ban on employment will be lifted.

Programme Director, Reform Education Nigeria, Ayodamola Oluwatoyin, in an interview with our correspondent, noted that the Buhari regime failed to meet the expectations of citizens.

“We all had lots of expectations from him and the minister. Though one might argue that they tried their best, the truth is that their best was not good enough. We are hoping that the incoming administration will do their best and ensure that there is a total revitalization of our education sector.”

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